My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.

This week focuses on four horror/thrillers from the 70s and 80s programmed on Shudder.


Rituals (1977)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

I wanted to love this movie and then I wanted to like it but ultimately its flaws wore on me and I have many mixed feelings about Rituals.

What I do admire about Peter Carter’s survival thriller is its visceral quality. He and the actors capture a sense of realism as the five doctors hike, swim, and try to escape the harsh wilderness setting. None of it feels phony, except for the characters’ behavior and motivations. That’s what I take the most issue with… other than Hal Holbrook’s steady, determined protagonist, the remainder of the group are a bunch of hysterical sissies. Their logic, or lack there of, gets so preposterous at times that I found myself rolling my eyes throughout the picture. The problem is that Holbrook is the only voice of reason throughout the entire picture and his four compatriots (other than one who disappears early in the picture) go from useless to dangerously absurd. For that reason, I found the script out of balance. And the constant screaming delivery from the actors wore me down to the point where I had to take several breaks during this viewing.

Again, I admire much of what Carter did here and there is some serious suspense, not to mention a touching, unforgettable ending, but many of the decisions made throughout the making of this film were misguided.

Watched on Shudder


Phantasm (1979)

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

This is the first time I’ve seen the cult classic from beginning to end. It’s one of those rare movies that transcends its faulty script with the incredible atmosphere and tone set by the director. I found myself frustrated by several narrative decisions, especially the way characters never learn their lessons (how may times can they leave the kid alone?), but ultimately entranced by the stunning images and nightmarish quality of Coscarelli’s vision. At the end, though it doesn’t make logical sense, he creates a true horror film that I’d choose any idea over the silly slashers pictures of that era.

Watched on Shudder.


Death Line (1972)

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I can see some horror fans getting bored with Gary Sherman’s Death Line. The film takes its time, not playing into genre cliches but establishing its characters, letting some of them indulge in eccentricities, and developing its “monster” as much as its protagonists. I found those choices refreshing.

Donald Pleasence delivers my favorite of his performance which I’ve seen so far. His quirkiness reminds me of Michael Moriarty’s roles for Larry Cohen. Similarly, Sherman gives Pleasence the room to create an atypical police detective. I only wanted to see more of this unusual character and was more fascinated with him than the main horror plot. The central female and male protagonist are not nearly as interesting but do a decent enough job to not distract from the film’s stronger elements, the highlight of which is Hugh Armstrong.

Playing the film’s “monster”, Armstrong is at once terrifying and sympathetic. With a smart script, careful direction, and an astonishing performance, the team creates a horrific antagonist we can feel sorry for. Again, the results may not be satisfying to the casual genre fan, the ones who turn to these films for blood and guts. But for someone who likes horror for its psychological and social implications, Death Nile is quite an experience.

Watched on Shudder.


Night of the Comet (1984)

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

I really enjoyed the first half of this cult classic, focused only on Stewart, her sister, and their exploration of a post-apocalyptic world. Produced by Wayne Crawford (who made Jake Speed, one of my favorite films ever), it’s no surprise that the film is a tongue-in-cheek, neon-soaked 80s adventure that doesn’t take itself seriously at all.

However, two thirds in the script goes in a different (and bad) direction. I was not fond of the random episode with the shopping mall gang. It felt forced, belonging to a different movie altogether. From there on, the movie loses steam, foregoing its enjoyable simplicity for a convoluted sci-fi plot. By the time the characters arrived at the base, I was bored and watching the clock.

It’s a shame too because this film didn’t need to mess up its character-driven narrative with a bunch of contrived plot.

Watched on Shudder.